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Category Archives: People I Like

Sad News for the PL Family

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My friends at Portuguese Grill.

Brad and his family the night they sampled the delights of Portugal.

It is something of a crime against nature, when a young person dies.  I’ve witnessed the early deaths of friends and relatives, of students and of strangers, and said those words, over and over.  But when a person dies of a disease, anger turns to relief at some point because that person is no longer suffering.  Even the
death of my father’s first wife, who passed away in her twenties, came with the coda that she was sick, that it would have happened some day.

What I bring today really is a crime against what should have been.

A friend, Brad Hayes, who was featured on this blog a few years ago, passed away last week.  Except he didn’t exactly just “pass away.”  There is no euphemism that encapsulates the kind of death that Brad experienced and the shock it was to his wife, his daughters and his family.  And the details really do not matter to anyone but those who really loved him most.  What matters to the rest of us is that the light he brought to this world, that shone in the faces of his family and our friends, is now absent and always will be.

Brad was exactly the sort of person who you could take to a Portuguese restaurant without complaint or whining about the fact that he had no idea what the food would be.   That day, I told him I would go on my own.  He insisted on bringing the entire family.  Even his mother was there.  Nobody balked at the unfamiliar dishes, not even his six-year-old daughter.   There was just the joy of a family being together, which happened often, but not enough.

Brad did not treat me like Denise’s annoying friend, which let’s be honest, at times, I certainly am.  He treated me like his friend.  He once marveled at my ability to cut up drumsticks with a fork and knife, because I refuse to touch meat in front of other people.  He marveled but did not make fun of me.  Literally everyone else would and does.  He spent the first day of his Hawaiian honeymoon taking his wife- and his wife’s annoying friend- to the beach.  I was willing to be dropped off somewhere till my plane came.  He would not hear of it.   He asked me what I wanted to do, and happily went to an apparently famous gas station to sample their spam.  No joke.  Because I said so.

So I say good-bye to my friend, Brad, who at 34, still had a life to live.  Who still had kids he should have had the chance to guide into adulthood, and a new wife he should have grown old with.  To those he left, who must truly live with the hollowness his loss leaves behind, I am so sorry. I haven’t forgotten about you.  And I won’t forget Brad.



I Heart Geoff!!!

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A monument built on the site of Chaucer's house.

A monument built on the site of Chaucer’s house.  London.

“Love? Pilar, Pilar, Pilar, Pilar.” Oh, Stop!!

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Yesterday, I was jazzed to find in the program for PFA (UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive, which shows movies nobody will show anywhere else) a film about Jose Saramago and his wife, journalist Pilar del Rio.  So not only was I all set up to learn something about an author I admire, but as a bonus Jose and Pilar, from the description seemed, well, sweet.

Sweet, and it was Portugal’s entry to the Academy Awards foreign film category.  It didn’t win.   Watch the trailer.  I command you.  You can thank me later.

Perhaps it’s just a confession of my warped state of mind, but for all the dewy photography and mind-blowing deep thoughts, I left the theater nearly stumbling in a haze of  both upliftedness and the pall of being possessed by Grumpy Smurf himself.

Yes, I am jealous of a dead literary visionary and a widow.  And it’s not that I think of myself as a literary visionary and want to rain on anybody’s posthumous parade .  I promise.

Read the rest of this entry

Miss Angola Kicks Lusophone Ass!

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Lelia Lopes is the new Miss Universe.  Personally, I am not the biggest proponent of beauty pageants.   And I would have preferred to eat glass than to have watched the whole ceremony on TV.   And I’d never, ever be writing about it if someone who spoke Portuguese hadn’t won.

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s so damn cute!  I’m not really evaluating how pretty she is here; all those girls range from slightly scary but gorgeous to really effing gorgeous.  But no, this one has a sweetness about her that made me take notice.  Plus she’s gorgeous.

I love her expression here!

Photo of Lelia Lopes of Angola hearing she won "Miss Universe."

Come on! Who can resist that genuinely joyful face?

  I think we need a better look at that smile!!

Close up of Lopes

See? Too cute!

I really don’t know much about her, but from the slide show of the contest, she looks a million times more genuine than some of the other plastic contestants.  It’s also nice to see a story about Angolans that does not involve the words “desperate,” “violent,” “your cousin got attacked,”  “war-torn,” or “bombs.”   Hopefully, she will help shatter those images.  Good luck to her.

“Cidade Despida” Snuck Out The Back, Jack

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Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the end of this, and think you might, go away.  I’m not holding back, folks!

So my mom and her RTP-palooza has broken my heart.  Kind of.  I mean, don’t send flowers or anything, but if there’s one thing my mom and I love, it’s a detective show.  And if there’s another thing she loves, it’s one in Portuguese where for some weird reason, I can understand a large portion of the dialogue and don’t have to ask a million questions.  Why I understand better a show about mayhem and murder rather than shows about say, kids and their grandparents (Pai a Força might as well be in Russian), I have no idea.  My grandparents didn’t bequeath me a huge vocabulary concerning police blotters and arrest warrants.

Cidade Despida  (The Naked City) was the story of a policewoman who is head of a unit in Lisbon.  Apparently (I didn’t see this part) when she is transferred in from Porto as the lead cop, the boys’ club of her police station doesn’t respect her, but she is awesome and prevails over the sexist twats.  And their twattiness begins to melt away.  Kind of like S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Van Buren in the original Law and Order with Lenny and Benjamin Bratt.  Except this one looks and dresses like Aeon Flux grew her hair out so much it won’t do the cool flip thing anymore.

Seriously, the whole time I was watching, I wondered, why did it take Van Buren till almost 50 to be sporting lines like “You don’t like me because I’m in a skirt?”  when Ana (Caterina Furtado) is doing it at, say, maybe 30.

Ana has felt for a long time that someone is watching her.  She doesn’t sleep.  She habitually runs- I mean, really RUNS–  in the wee hours of the night in locales so beautiful you will have your fingers on your dial to your travel agent.  If there were affordable flights.  Or still travel agents….

But she can take care of herself.  She packs heat.  I’m not sure what the gun laws are in Portugal, but I’m pretty sure that my mother’s fear of knife-weilding white slave traders says something about the relative rarity of the heat-packing over there….  at least it 50 years ago (laugh at me now…).  Ana’s boyfriend, an arty, sweet, concert pianist, regularly makes her dinner with all the wine and roses fixings a woman could hope for, but she prefers to let work-related stress eat her alive.  In the shower.  Fully clothed.

But this is just the story arc that runs over the whole series – each week has (had) its own separate plot.  Episodes have a beginning, middle, and end and a social message.  For example, “orgies are a complicated emotional minefield that can end in murder after 30 odd years of being forced to partake unwillingly.”   Okay, I’m being a bit flippant about it, but seriously, this isn’t just a junk soap opera where you get a tiny morsel of goodies each time you watch.  This is a whole, juicy sandwich with a pickle spear garnish.  Each episode, the viewer is teased with a haunting detail of the  larger story of who exactly is haunting this woman.  MMMMM!!   Each week, I got ready to order a bigger and bigger sandwich.

She just found out about the boyfriend.

So imagine my surprise when I figured that last week, when it was revealed that (Woah!) it was her BOYFRIEND who was  taking pictures of  women he murdered in puddles and then submitting them to art galleries anonymously.  His ultimate goal was to eventually square the collection off with a picture of her body….  I thought it was just another episode.  I thought that next week, she’d simply show up, just like Lt. Van Buren after she fired on a suspect at an ATM, with her kids on the scene in the family minivan.  She had some ‘splaining to do to the mucky mucks, but Van Buren stayed afloat, even in her skirt.  Ana would hold her head up high and come back to work and just be single now, solving crime. Eating sexism.  That really old guy that didn’t like her, he’d be arguing for her not to get transferred back to her native Porto by the end of August.

No.  Not so.  This week, instead, the same actress was in a period piece about Porto in the 19th Century.  That last shot of Despidea, of her finally getting some sleep in her bed, in the apartment with the amazingly hot, brown, mod (MOD!) wallpaper, that was it!  

Dick Wolf has totally skewed my expectations.

But on the bright side, this series did win “Best Detective Series” at the Moscow TV and Film Festival in April.  I’m glad for them.    And I wish, wish, WISH they were all so easy to understand.  And had fewer women acting like crying fools and more women kicking ass.

Yes, I mean you, lady who looks like Melissa Gilbert on Vingança.

This morning, I had to be content to watch João Baião introduce the Museu do Porco.  Yes, that means “Pig Museum.”  It was reminiscent of a collection of merdinhas collected by a crazy person in an attempt to fill their empty lives with cute, pink animals.  I was crying inside.

Package Envy

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My Portuguese mother (who has been in the U.S. 50 years now) has a love-hate relationship with pre-packaged American ready-made meals.  It doesn’t matter if the food is from 7-11 or Whole Foods, she tries but she just can’t feel good about serving it.

Honestly, neither can I.   But I’m okay with that.

My mother is not.  So periodically while I was growing up, she would buy packaged meals for us but shake her head and complain the entire dinner that people ate this stuff but that it was disgusting and bizarre.  The next day everything would go back to normal and we’d have actual food again.

The surprise for me here is she is still doing this.

My mother came home from Trader Joe’s with two – count’em – TWO packets of something called “Polenta Vegetable Medley.”

“Why’d you buy two?”  I inquired.

“Oh, A., one is NOTHING! Look at  this!”  And she pinches the bag in half to show that “Trader Joe” actually is “Trader Screw the Consumer.”  “Your father would eat that in no time.”

“You’re not going to just serve that, are you?”

“Why not?”

Why not indeed.  She puts the two air-heavy bags in the freezer.

About two days later, the bloom was off the rose.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.  Your father said it looked weird.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll eat whatever you put out.”  My dad is known for dumping yogurt on things and mixing up weird things that don’t go together and making a weird goulash.  Like yogurt, broccoli, and chunks of steak with potatoes and beets.  MMMMM!  And he had a beef with polenta medley?

“Don’t talk about your father like that!!”

“Well…. you know he will….”  It’s not an insult, exactly, right, if he’s proud of it.

“Oh, I should never have bought it.   I’m not sure it’s going to turn out right.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.”  Then we had a ten minute discussion about how much sodium was in  it.  Apparently, it was a freaking salt lick.

“How much sodium are you supposed to have, Mom?”   I really should know this.

“I don’t know, they just said your father should have less sodium.”  Well, if she doesn’t know, and she’s buying the food,  I guess I’m off the hook.

“But how much is a lot?”

“Everything’s a lot, how would I know?”

The entire time my mother was cooking it, one of the packages was sitting on the counter.  She kept going back to it, musing “It just doesn’t look like this.  What did I buy?”  Oh, and “Look at this!  It’s still a block of ice! What would happen if I wasn’t here mashing it! Gosh, do people eat this every day?”

I’m having flashbacks.

So we sat down to dinner, as my mother is giggling like a schoolgirl.

“What?”  I ask.

“The (HEEEEHHEEEHHEEE) Food! Look at this-” and she pokes the Medley with a fork.

It wasn’t that bad.  No worse than anything else at Trader Joe’s.  But my mom has paired it- get this- with pulled pork!  And she has no idea pulled pork is supposed to be served in a bun.

“Where are the buns?”

“Buns?”  She doesn’t just say “Buns.”  She says “Buns” as if I asked her to wrap the pork in rotten human flesh.   Like “BUUUUUNNNNSSS?!?!?!?!?!”

“For the pork.”
“Why do you want buns?”

“That’s what the picture shows on the box, Mom. It’s served as a sandwich”

“I don’t care.  I do whatever I want.”  Except on the polenta.  That needs to be a Kodak moment.

“It’s both pretty good.”

“I don’t know, A.  Do people really eat this every day?”

A Tribute to My Portuguese Mother

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My mom and grandma sharing a birthday cake in 1966.

My mom and Grandma. Two amazing Portuguese moms.

My grandparents sent my mother to America in 1959 to learn English,  and then turn around, and come back to Portugal to work in the American Embassy.

As you can see from the date, on the picture, that didn’t happen.

And my mom (right) was busy doing things that I will always not only admire, but scarcely believe are possible, except in that my mom is proof.    She got the opportunity to go to university in California, and she knew the tuition was expensive (though nothing at all like what it is now!!)  so she went to work up in Sequoia National Park cleaning hotel rooms.    A lot of foreign students worked up there;  Mexican students, Japanese students, an Indian guy whom she still laughs about how funny he was, but how equally sure she was he had a wife somewhere in the Old Country.

So you’re wondering, how can anyone pay their entire tuition on cleaning hotel rooms?  And Elsa, my mother, realized the same thing.  So she summoned her courage and asked for a job in the poshy-posh restaurant.  And she got it and spent her summers and weekends there for years.

Leslie Caron in the 60s

Elsa! May I pleeeze have my ham and eggs now?

She even once served the great Leslie Caron.   Caron’s family requested my mom day
after day, because she was the only one who was businesslike enough to not swoon and act like an imbecile in front of a Hollywood giant.  That’s my mom; polite, kind, and she will take care of you because you deserve it, without being impressed by your star credentials.

She finally became a Spanish and French teacher in Easton, California.  It was not an easy assignment at first; they gave her English students who were beyond remedial and the school seriously expected her, as a foreigner, to teach them to read.  And to recognize grammar.  And by golly, in the great tradition of her grandmother and great-grandmother who were English teachers, she did!  She is the only foreigner I know who can accurately correct people’s English.  She can sit there in front of the television, with a look of dismay, and correct grammar better than the ad campaign writers ever will.  And she’s (arrrgh!) always frigging right!  She also made sure I got my BA, even when it was hard for me to stay in school.  And she has supported all of my Don Quixote career dreams.

My grandma (left) was amazing, too.  She wasn’t allowed by her parents to attend high school.  That sounds like child abuse, but you have to remember my grandma was born in 1907 in Portugal.   It wasn’t that her parents were being cruel, or locking her in the basement until she was 30.  It just wasn’t necessary to get a job at the time.  Teachers at her primary school begged her parents to let her go, but her parents were concerned she would get a little too big-headed, since they had fourteen children, and none ever had gone, and everybody was doing just fine.  So Grandma was sent to work.  But my grandma, Irene, she didn’t last long at the factory without being moved up into bigger and bigger jobs.  This was a woman who taught herself to read Spanish so she could read the “Great Books” that weren’t published yet in Portuguese.  She ended up being what would be an equivalent of a day-to-day manager of an office of a German pharmaceutical company in Lisbon.   A boy who was sweeping her offices began to drive her crazy at one point in the 50’s with rehearsing plays at work, and marched in  with no more and got him a spot at the drama school in Lisbon.  He now owns a world-class theater in Cascais.  She finally did go to high school, and graduated weeks before I was born.  There even was a streaker at her graduation.

My mom at her High School Graduation

All Grandma ever wanted for us- right there!

Both these women made their own way and made their childrens’ education the most important gift of their lives.  I’m always grateful for all they’ve given me.  Their strength inspires me to go on, to keep trying, to keep getting my work out there, even in this ridiculous economy, even with all the strikes I have against me.    I come from great, strong, accomplished women who overcame much.   I must do the same.  I will.  I have to.

I was going to write a funny post about my Portuguese mom feeding me too much, and how, I’m willing to bet, when I come home from her taking care of me after my surgery in June, I will be the first person to have surgery and gain 50 pounds of meaty muscle, but how could I do that when the strength and heart of my Portuguese mom has given me so much more than the meals have?

So it’s more important that I say “Thanks” to my two favorite Portuguese mothers, instead of laughing about the meat-obsessed quest of the Portuguese mom in stuffing the throat of her adult children like baby birds.

Thanks Mom for everything you did, and everything you do!   I only hope someday that I really knock it out of the park.  But I know you love me the way that I am.   And thank you Grandma- I miss you more than anything, every day!  Without your strength and your stories, I would have long given up.  You keep me going.  You both keep me going.

So now I go to call my mom, apologize for not calling earlier because I took a nap after class (I worked like 12 hours Saturday, gimme a break!) and thank her for all the pushing, all the grammar correcting, and all the love that like a circle, never ends.

little heart

Love MOM!!!